Bristol born John Scott has built an enviable reputation for himself as a
composer of dramatic and evocative scores for documentaries (as well as feature
films), such as the Cousteau adventures, so it is appropriate that he was
commissioned to write this celebration of Britain's oldest recorded town.
The Colchester Symphony, at 66:30 minutes duration is huge and sprawling;
and, it has to be said, of uneven inspiration. Bold, exciting material is
let down by more ponderous elements. Try as I may, in the absence of really
memorable themes, I sometimes found my attention wandering particularly in
16 minute first movement - or first tableau as the CD booklet calls it -
the work is divided into five tableaux each with its own title and programme.
Tableau one entitled "Before Camulodunum" suggests the area of Colchester
at the dawn of history: softly focussed and distant heraldic fanfares evoking
"primordial elements drifting in the ether" and then more substantial symphonic
material developing as the land forms. A sonorous celli theme is announced
which is to become the motif for Colchester and
from which the whole work will develop and proceed. For the first ten minutes
or so we have music that represents the early dawn of civilisation and it
strongly reminded me of the first movement, "Danses of des Temps primitifs"
from Tournemire's Symphony No 7 , "Les Danses de la Vie" dealing with very
similar subject matter. The music proceeds slowly and ponderously and might
have benefited from some judicious editing; but at about 10:00 the rhythms
grow increasingly urgent; there are softly touched cymbal strokes as if one
hears the breath of some stirring beast, saxophone
wailings, percussion beats, winding woodwinds, slithering strings, and then
slight syncopations and faintly exotically Arabic inflections - all adding
interest and colour as the mysticism of the Druids is invoked.
Tableau two is called, "The Romans" and it is much more arresting. It is
a powerful alla marcia statement - a Respighi-like sound-portrait of advancing,
mighty Roman legions. Proud and confident brass fanfares call out across
the sound stage and their colour is enhanced by very authentic-sounding musical
phrases evoking Latin and exotic cultures. Quieter passages suggest
Celtic resignation and the verdant landscapes around the town, before an
impressive fugal section evokes the building of the Roman temple.
Tableau three represents the uprising and temporary victory of Boudica against
Roman tyranny. The music harks back to some of the material in the opening
movement to portray the less sophisticated rebel army drawn together by the
fiery female warrior. As her forces gather the music swirls around like some
swelling cloud of angry bees until at the hight of their rage they are released
to on their prey. After the climax of the conflict the music decrescendos
to mourn Boudica's many casualties.
The fourth tableaux takes us forward to the Civil War with Colchester in
a state of siege with Roundheads encircling the town and forcing depravation
on the Royalists within its walls. Desolate tonalities comment on the hardship
of the citizens. Martial music underscores armed conflict and then there
is poignancy for the deaths of the Royalists who are handed over to the
Roundheads as the price of the safety of the majority.
The final movement, "Celebration", is a portrait of modern Colchester. The
music has all the sweep and pomp that goes with great civic pride. It is
joyful and breezy, and both the everyday hurry and bustle of the town, and
the contrasting serenity of its leafy green spaces and quieter paths are
evoked. An attractive, Romantic, broad-flowing melody is introduced which
builds up to an imposing and sustained climax which is rather let down by
an anti-climactic and rather perfunctory ending after earlier material is
An interesting if flawed work enthusiastically performed by the Colchester